Deadly fire in Nicholson kills two

Published 11:48 pm Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Friday night fire took the lives of two Nicholson residents, one of which was the parent of a Picayune Memorial High School football standout.
The 911 call came in to the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department at 10:13 p.m., according to a report from the department. Two people, Carolyn Billups, 49, and Robert L. Stewart, 56, died in the residential fire at the home located at 117 Gardenia Dr.
Billups is the mother of Jonathan Billups, a starting lineman for the Maroon Tide. Billups started on the offensive line last season for the Tide as a sophomore.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation and because the fire involved deaths that investigation will be conducted by the state fire Marshall, said Sheriff Joe Stuart in a Saturday interview at the Picayune Item.
Just before the time of the 911 call neighbors recall hearing a loud noise similar to fire crackers and then a loud hiss like air rushing out.
When they looked out the window they noticed the fire was begining to engulf the structure, said Bob Hartman, who was staying with his relatives across the street.
The neighbors then called 911 to report the fire. In front of the house were two parked cars, possibly the source of the hissing.
Fire Chief Bobby Robbins said when he and his men arrived those vehicles were on fire along with the home. Front tires on one of the vehicles were noticeably flat, possibly from the heat.
Diana Hartman, Bob’s mother, said the fire was so hot she could feel it inside her home and on the glass door entrance to her home.
“When they got here it was totally gone,” Bob Hartman said.
Robbins said in about 20 minutes the fire was under control. Four other departments assisted in the call; Southeast, Pine Grove, McNeill and Picayune.
In addition to the 14 Nicholson Volunteer fire fighters on scene there were 16 men from the other four departments, Robbins said.
A total of seven fire trucks responded to the call.
As fire fighters put the flames out neighbors said they could see the remains of victims.
“The one body I saw was just gone,” Bob Hartman said.
Both of the victim’s bodies were found in the same room about three feet from one another, Robbins said. Robbins and his men searched the residence while working the scene because they thought there might be a third victim, Billups’ son, in the residence, he said.
According to officials on the scene, the two victims were the only two residents of the home, Robbins said.
Also, it is believed that Jonathan Billups was living with a friend at the time of the fire, said Deputy Coroner Derek Turnage.
The Sheriff’s report states that Jonathan Billups was notified of the incident. Outside the home is a Picayune Maroon Tide Football supporter sign with Jonathan’s name and number printed on it.
Turnage said the autopsy conducted Saturday at about noon determined the cause of death to be smoke inhalation. A toxicology report should be available in a couple of weeks, but Turnage said pathologist blood work did not show signs of foul play. The Sheriff’s Department press release said currently the fire is ruled as accidental but a final report will be completed at the conclusion of the state fire Marshall investigation.
Neighbors described the couple as pleasant and quiet.
“They were nice people, they kept to themselves,” said neighbor Arthur Schick.
Saturday afternoon the fire department was called back out to put some water on the smoldering ashes, said Nicholson Fire Chief Bobby Robbins.
“I guess it’s out now, I hope,” Diana Hartman said.

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